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JPS Career Development Center Students Intern at Nissan

A group of Jackson Public School District students are participating in a paid internship at Nissan during the Spring 2024 semester. Jackson Public Schools transports 10 students to the Nissan factory in Canton, Miss., twice a week to work five-hour shifts. From left to right: Corey Chapman, JaiAllen Clincy, Ethan Crosby, Manuel Sanchez, Stromile Wheeler, John White, Jordyn Norwood, Jada Lee, Raquel Williams and Micharyio Spann. Photo courtesy Jackson Public Schools

A group of Jackson Public School District students is gaining on-the-job training through the inaugural Nissan JPS Career Development Center Spring Internship Program.

The 10 seniors participating represent six of the district’s eight high schools and are in the second year of study in their respective programs—welding, automotive services or digital media—at the Career Development Center.

Jackson Public Schools, Nissan North America, and the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District are partners in the program. The internship is exclusively available to JPS students enrolled at CDC.

“The second year they start really getting into specifics within the discipline,” CDC Principal Eric Cook told the Mississippi Free Press on Feb. 14. “We do some leadership building, resume building and entrepreneurship exposure, so they’ve had all of these pieces along with their involvement and engagement in their student organization to get them prepared for the demands that are part of the internship.”

The JPS Career Development Center offers 20 programs for mainly juniors and seniors in the school district. It prepares students for required exams such as the National Center for Construction Education and Research Welding certification and the Automotive Service Excellence certification test. The school also administers the ACT WorkKeys to all of its students. Nissan requires its workers to earn a silver level or above on the exam. Cook said each of the students in the internship has already met this requirement.

“It’s a lot on the students and they have risen to the occasion to be able to manage both an internship and to be able to continue with their coursework along with the academic work that they do,” Cook said. “I’m really proud of them for really stepping up to the plate, managing their time and being excited and committed to the program.”

Reggie Knighten serves as the Senior Advanced Skill Master Trainer for Nissan’s three U.S. plants, and he oversees the internship program at the manufacturing plant. Knighten said the partnership was a no-brainer considering that many of the students in the area have parents or family members who work at the plant.

“Hinds County is one of our largest school districts. Most of our workforce comes from Hinds County,” Knighten said. “… Knowing that we’re getting ready to go electric, we need that new generation. Old heads like myself are knowledgeable in industrial combustion engines, but these kids know computers. They know the phones. They know all that stuff.”

official headshot of Eric Cook
Jackson Public School District Career Development Center Principal Eric Cook said on Feb. 14, 2024, that the school is working to maximize the opportunities at Nissan in Canton, Miss., for students. Photo courtesy Jackson Public Schools

The interns will rotate through several of the Canton factory’s manufacturing departments. They begin in trim and chassis, where technicians equip the vehicle with the dash, steering wheel, seats, electrical components, engine, wheels, tires, doors, hood and rear hatch. They then move through the paint, body and stamping departments.

“They’re coming in and getting introduced to the different shops now. They get global basic skills for each shop,” Knighten said. “We are trying to see what they can master and what would be the best fit for them. It goes back to trying to give them a good job opportunity at the end of the process.”

CDC Welding Instructor Devonta Rawls, who once worked at the Nissan plant, described the experience as unmatched.

“When I was working in Nissan, I was in welding school. I was on the TempStaff, and I was in truck trim,” Rawls said. “All that I was doing was breaking two bolts on the door. I wasn’t even doing all the things they are about to do. This is such a great thing. This is an opportunity they won’t find again.”

Jackson Public Schools busses the students to the Nissan plant twice a week. They work a paid 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift and earn two Carnegie units toward graduation.

Knighten said that students who complete the internship will be offered a position with the company. The starting salary is between $22 and $26 an hour and includes full benefits, the opportunity for a discounted leased vehicle and tuition remission. That salary could increase to as much as $36 an hour in three years.

“We want to set them up with gainful employment,” Knighten said. “We really want the (students) in this program to come out and get a job opportunity.

The students are already learning valuable job and life skills.

“I learned from Nissan that as a person you can’t be as slow as you would usually be,” Provine senior and CDC welding student John White told the Mississippi Free Press on Feb. 14. “You gotta be up to par with everything, meaning time is money, and if you waste that time, it’s called ‘muda.’”

The opportunity has given White, who was the quarterback for Provine’s football team last season, a different view of his future.

“Growing up the only thing I knew was sports,” White said. “The only thing I knew how to do was throw a football. When I got to Nissan, I saw all this new stuff and (learned) new things like how to do bolts and screws. I like it because I love learning new things.”

The internship began on Jan. 9 and will run through late April.

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